Category Archives: Etymology

Lay & Lie

My memory recently lost this so I am relearning. It’s not as easy as it seems. Corrections welcome.

Lay is a transitive verb–something is being done to something else. I lay the child down to sleep. Lie is an intransitive verb–nothing or no one is being acted on. Now I lie down to sleep. The past tense of lay is laid. Last night I laid the child down right after dinner. The past tense of lie is lay. Last night I lay down to sleep soon after midnight. The past participle of lay is laid (same as the past tense). I have laid the child to sleep three times now. The past participle of lie is lain. I could have lain in bed until lunch. Layed is not a word; use laid.


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“Some of the factors that have contributed to the drastic decline of the art of bringing phrases to closure are clear enough. They include the wholesale de-formalization of poetry in our time and the consequent premium placed on enjambment; our dogmatic insistence on open-endedness and the bland tones of everyday language; our predilection for understatement and uneasiness about rhetorical display; our aversion to affirmation and our cult of the whisper.”  -Robert Pogue Harrison

The New York Review of Books, Volume 59, Number 2 · February 9, 2012. ‘The Book From Which Our Literature Springs’, by Robert Pogue Harrison.


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Jules-Alexis Muenier

La leçon de catéchisme (1890)
Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie de Besançon
oil on canvas

Editorial: We are giving catechism a go. I have reservations that are admittedly abstract. The word itself is unfortunate– to sound down to. And while I like the idea of studying doctrines intellectually (in this case Christian doctrines), the thought of indoctrinating our daughter is rather off-putting. I am accepting the skepticism and discomfort as part of the process itself, which is why for now we are leaning in.

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Gary Whitehead

A Glossary of Chickens
by Gary Whitehead

There should be a word for the way
they look with just one eye, neck bent,
for beetle or worm or strewn grain.
“Gleaning,” maybe, between “gizzard”
and “grit.” And for the way they run
toward someone they trust, their skirts
hiked, their plump bodies wobbling:
“bobbling,” let’s call it, inserted
after “blowout” and before “bloom.”
There should be terms, too, for things
they do not do—like urinate or chew—
but perhaps there already are.
I’d want a word for the way they drink,
head thrown back, throat wriggling,
like an old woman swallowing
a pill; a word beginning with “S,”
coming after “sex feather” and before “shank.”
And one for the sweetness of hens
but not roosters. We think
that by naming we can understand,
as if the tongue were more than muscle.

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constult / latibulate / yepsen

to act stupidly together.
to hide oneself in a corner.
the amount that can be held in two hands cupped together; also, the two cupped hands themselves.

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nomenclature / nomenklatura

1. a set or system of names or terms, as those used in a particular science or art, by an individual or community, etc.;
2. the names or terms comprising a set or system.
a select list or class of people from which appointees for top-level government positions are drawn, esp. from a Communist Party.

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